Justin Townes Earle, ‘Single Mothers’ – Album Review
With his fifth full-length album, 'Single Mothers, Justin Townes Earle has written and recorded what is now the masterpiece of his musical career. An old soul, Earle has always had an innate ability to channel the best sounds of 30-year-old country music -- let's call itclassic -- and fuse it with his internal sensibility for all things rock and roll. Essentially, since the release of his debut EP, 'Yuma,' the singer-songwriter has been creating his own brand of alt-country for the last seven years.
From recording to touring, 'Single Mothers' is the direct culmination of all the hard work he has put into his craft.
Opening with 'Worried Bout the Weather,' Earle sets the stage for the folksy feel of the album. He then leads directly into the title-track, which sounds as though it was born right from the same pages as the song that preceded it.
Overall, the album has a much "lighter" feel to it than past releases, and as Earle hinted leading up to its release, that is partly due to his marriage in 2013. "She’s amazing, and has changed my life in a million different ways -- all for the better," he recently said about his wife. So, it's no surprise that 'Single Mothers' features some of Earle's brightest songs in his catalog. Case in point: 'My Baby Drives.' Singing, "Everywhere I go these days / My baby drives," one can't help but think that he's referring to the love-of-his-life and the impact she's had on him.
That's not to say that 'Single Mothers' is without its gloom. The darkest track of the album is 'Picture In a Drawer,' and with the lyrics, "I'm not drowning / I'm just seeing how long I can stay down," Earle paints a picture that, while despaired, is easily relatable. Adding to the song's murkiness -- beautifully, we might add -- is the fading sound of the pedal steel guitar behind his vocals.
The album is full of memorable tunes, like Earle's ode to Billie Holiday, 'White Gardenias,' or the closing rocker, 'Burning Pictures.' The latter opens with possibly the most poignantly charming line on the entire record: "How many times have you fallen in love? / Has your heart ever been full or just full enough?"
Along with his songwriting insight, throughout 'Single Mothers,' Earle's musicianship is in the spotlight. His vocals don't necessarily always follow the rhythm of his guitar, a rhythm that is reminiscent of the picking style of Dave Van Ronk; everything operates independently of one another, yet each facet of every song works together in an audibly perfect fashion.
There's a grittiness and realness to 'Single Mothers' that makes it accessible to music fans from various walks of life. If it's electric guitars you want, the record's got 'em. Acoustic love songs? Yep. And if you're looking for lyrics that tear through the nonsense of this world and focus directly on your heart and soul, look no further. 'Single Mothers' has it all.